How can business most effectively support women’s economic empowerment, through their value chains and beyond?

The issue of women’s access to economic opportunities has attracted renewed international attention this year with the launch in January of the UN High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment.

 

The UK Secretary of State for International Development, Justine Greening is a Panel member and has initiated an extensive UK-based consultation to gather views from across civil society, business and other sectors on how best to promote and support women’s economic empowerment.

 

As part of this consultation process, Business Fights Poverty and CARE International UK are bringing together businesses and their NGO partners to focus on how business can most effectively support women’s economic empowerment through their value chains and beyond. The online discussions on 19 May 2016 are the first of a series of events organised as part of this Challenge.

 

Questions for discussion

 

This online discussion will address the Challenge question: How can business most effectively support women’s economic empowerment, through their value chains and beyond?

 

Specifically, we would like to explore the following questions:

 

1. How can business best support women’s economic empowerment working through their value chains?

 

2. How can companies’ internal policies and practices contribute to greater economic empowerment for women?

 

3. How can business use external marketing and customer engagement to support women’s economic empowerment?

 

4. Which actions should companies take  (possibly in partnership with governments/donors/civil society) to tackle wider systemic constraints to women’s empowerment, such as access to finance?


We would like to hear from you about the most effective ways in which business can help empower women: is it action in one of the four areas listed here, or perhaps another kind of intervention altogether? Share your experience and examples, tell us what work and where further action is needed.  

 

Editor's Note:

Welcome to this online written discussion.  This discussion will run twice to facilitate engagement from different time zones.  To post comments you will need to sign in / sign up to Business Fights Poverty. A list of recent comments is shown in the right-hand side bar and will refresh every 5 minutes. To refresh more often, please click on the refresh icon in your browser or on the link below.

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Dear all, thank you for this interesting discussion; from my work as a consultant on sustainable development focusing on sustainable supply chains I have learned that it is important to include women into supply chains as respected part of that chain, and treat them with respect and not as "poor or victims" as it happens unfortunately in many countries; there are best practices where businesses work together with small scale farmers for instance where the farmers subscribe to 10 year contracts committing the business to buy from them (for example in the case of biomass supply in Sri Lanka); they get paid a fair price, trained and have to comply with a no cash policy, meaning they have to open a bank account to receive their payments, they have to use organic fertilizer etc. They have responsibilities and benefits, more than for instance through usual development aid projects, they are integrated fully and know that without their commitment there is no supply of biomass for this large scale business; in addition they can explore additional opportunities on intercropping with food trees and supply to another company which collaborates with the biomass company; by having a bank account, being registered and having a long term contract they have a sustainable income and can explore loan possibilities for example to improve their housing; they can support their families themselves, and are not reliant on outside aid; 

in another example from Sri Lanka, the cinnamon industry which heavily relies on small scale farmers, the same can be observed; once the company enteres a contract with the peelers (which in this case are whole families), respect of their profession and recognition of their role within the supply chain is essential. it is reflected monetary but also in social aspects;

happy to hear your comments on best practices from other countries

this is just one example,  

Thank you Gerry and Tania and Kelly Lavelle here.  I am in the process of launching ElleSolaire, a women-centred Senegal based social entreprise for last mile distribution of solar technologies - the potential 'backlash' in rural communities is a primary concern I have in designing our programme and would ask if you have specific examples on effective ways to mitigate against it? 



Tania Beard said:

Gerry that's such a key point. What we've seen is if the focus is on economic empowerment alone, without consideration of the power dynamics at the community and household level, you can end up with a backlash. The design of the economic empowerment programme needs to be broad and deliberate about this.

Gerry Boyle said:

Another point which we are very aware of  is that if investments are made in women and their output increases in productivity and therefore value, there is a risk that men step in and increasingly take over ownership of the output.  So we do need to be working on men’s and community attitudes to ensure women retain some control over the value they create.

Indeed Alex. There is growing evidence that single-sector interventions do not have a sustained (growth) impact. As women face multiple constraints, this should not be a surprise. But this does have repercussions for efforts to go to scale.

Alex MacGillivray said:

Everyone is focused on access to finance, rightly, but access to electricity, sanitation, connectivity and mobility are equally important for women. We need to be more joined up. 

Lavelle, I hear your concern, i am from Kenya after working for a political office close to four years  i can say something on your fears for a backlash from the community where you want to establish your enterprise.

First, Lavelle before you commence implementing the enterprise, try and find influential women, help them to understand what is in it for them and the community. once you get them,

Secondly, empower opinion sharpers to speak to their members on the benefits of your enterprise.

through my experience, even though political establishment that exist in most of our African countries which i believe will initiate the backlash; they  will not affect your enterprise if you have the blessings of the community.

Tim

Hi - hopefully you will pick this up although we;re in the middle of the sessions.  You certainly do have a role to play in this discussion.  Interestingly,there is a Bangladesh example which is similar to this of working with women in local villages who have traditional seamstress skills, and using them with designers to provide top end product to European luxury goods companies.  It adds the further impact of working with local farmers to grow high quality indigo - see more here: http://www.livingbluebd.com/  

Timothy Straight said:

A bit unsure of the correctness of me sticking my voice in here, but giving it a go. Here in Armenia, I founded Homeland Development Initiaitive Foundation specifically to tap into the biggest resource that the country has- the women. We take a skill they have, crochet, and design, manufacture and export the products to Europe and the US. A very grassroot approach. For me, such direct job creation for women is the best way to fight poverty and domestic and sexual violence. Let me know if I have a role in this discussion. Thanks! Tim

Kelly - CARE's approach to such issues is to have embedded a "gender transformation" approach in our process for supporting the development of savings groups.  This uses the formation of the group and the change in women's ability to save and borrow as a key opportunity to engage directly with husbands/partners and the wider community around gender roles and expectations.  We are very aware that as women start to become empowered their risk of GBV increases.  However we have found that this structured broad engagement with those around the women directly involved pays dividends in attitudinal change (see for instance this blog:http://bit.ly/1TlNXpU That's a major reason why we would like to see the WEE HLP develop commitments to make gender transformative savings groups available to ALL women 

Kelly Lavelle said:

Thank you Gerry and Tania and Kelly Lavelle here.  I am in the process of launching ElleSolaire, a women-centred Senegal based social entreprise for last mile distribution of solar technologies - the potential 'backlash' in rural communities is a primary concern I have in designing our programme and would ask if you have specific examples on effective ways to mitigate against it? 



Tania Beard said:

Gerry that's such a key point. What we've seen is if the focus is on economic empowerment alone, without consideration of the power dynamics at the community and household level, you can end up with a backlash. The design of the economic empowerment programme needs to be broad and deliberate about this.

Gerry Boyle said:

Another point which we are very aware of  is that if investments are made in women and their output increases in productivity and therefore value, there is a risk that men step in and increasingly take over ownership of the output.  So we do need to be working on men’s and community attitudes to ensure women retain some control over the value they create.

On behalf of Prof. Stephanie Barrientos, The University of Manchester - Global Development Institute

The High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment could be an important catalyst, since it brings together actors from key institutions, including representatives from governments, World Bank, the UN, NGOs, as well as business. The role of business it is a dimension not sufficiently explored regarding its impacts on WEE.

People often talk of increasing WEE through ‘increasing access to markets’. However, the world increasingly works through Global Value Chains, which link firms across all stages of production, distribution and retail. OECD, WTO and UNCTAD estimated that approximately 70% of the world trade now passes through Global Value Chains, in which women play key roles in many segments.

For example, globally it is estimated that 350 million people work in cotton-apparel value chains, including farming, textiles, manufacture and distribution. In this scenario, women play key roles as:

  • seasonal workers and farmers in cotton farming – often without land ownership, insufficient credit and difficulties accessing markets;
  • homeworkers in lower tiers of value chain, with insufficient rights and protection;
  •  they constitute approximately 70-80% of garment workers in factories (e.g. in Bangladesh).

Lead companies are becoming increasingly concerned about the social and economic resilience of their supply chains, particularly given a rising demand in emerging economies and environmental pressures. But an effective change on the ground seems too slow. My research indicates that Global Value Chains can actually be a lever for change. In fact, if companies in value chains are mobilized, there will be implications for millions of women across Africa, Asia and Latin America.

More than 1,000 companies have signed up to the un women empowerment principles, and committed more than us$300 million to promoting women’s economic empowerment.

Both governments and multinational companies are also engaging in UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (that has identified supply chains as a focus) and are actively considering their role in promoting the Sustainable Development Goals.

Donors, Governments, Civil Society Organisations long promoted gender equality and have a key role to play in WEE – but they also need to bring in business, not through ‘markets’ alone but more strategically through value chains than can be lever for a real change.

Thanks Lara (and please thank Prof Barrientos for her contribution) - I was wondering whether you could provide a link to some of Prof Barrientos' recent research on gender and value chains?  I'm sure many participants in this discussion would be interested in learning more about her research findings.

Hi Gerry, I've just joined the discussion from Brazil. Happy to see that you'e mentioned GBV as this is a major obstacle for WEE in rural value chains. This blog talks about the specific example of the coffee VC in PNG http://tiny.cc/grslby. VSLAs can be very good platforms to promote change at household level. In PNG CARE used the so called Family Business Management Training, a tool to involve the whole household in a new way of defining gender roles for women have greater control over productive resources and income while men support in domestic tasks and generates an improves level of welfare for the family. It proved to be a pretty effective strategy in bringing men on board around the mutual advantages of having more empowered women supporting coffee production.

Welcome to the second session of our live chat about How business can support Women’s Economic Empowerment through value chains and beyond. (Click here to view the discussion during the first session).

I’m Hester le Roux, Challenge Director at Business Fights Poverty and I’ll be moderating the session. We're joined by another great panel to help us understand what business is already doing to support women’s empowerment, and what more can be done to achieve scale and impact. In terms of the format for this one hour live session, we will work our way through the four questions set out in the introduction above. Click Reply under a question or comment to add your thoughts. And please do feel free to put your own questions to our panel by typing in the comments box above. (You'll need to sign in or sign up to do this).

You'll see a feed of comments in the right hand column of this page, with a notification of new messages appearing regularly at the top. Click refresh in your browser, or via the link in the introduction, to display all the new comments, in time order, below.

Before we begin, I'd like to ask each our our panellists to introduce themselves.

Hi I am Gerry Boyle I am representing CARE International - a global humanitarian and development agency working in 80 countries, with a strong commitment to women’s economic empowerment and a target of supporting the economic empowerment of 30 million women by 2020.  Our key areas for doing this are financial inclusion, value chains, decent work and entrepreneurs.  We know that within economic empowerment we really need to change the social norms and expectations that hold women back.  And we know, from working with companies such as Barclays, GSK and Mondelez, that business can really make a difference.

Good afternoon.  I’m Polly Le Grand.  I’m an economic adviser at the UK Department for International Development (DFID). I’m working in our Growth and Resilience Department on women’s economic empowerment issues.  I’m really looking forward to the conversation today.

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